promise: (v) to let go

(a pleasure activism exercise)

I'm at a Marriott in Pueblo
putting lotion on my nipples 
before bed 
when it hits

and I've learned 
I've got to write it down 
when it hits
I've lost too many poems to 
I'll remember it in the morning

and, like, I don't know if you know this
but it's damn hard to write 
with lotion slick hands

and like, I don't know if you know this
but announcing that lotion 
has cured your writer's block 
on social media leaves 
way too much to the imagination

but damn if writing this thing 
with lotion slick hands 
doesn't feel like an orgasm
like the one I found tucked between two stanzas 
in a poem a friend mailed to me last summer

I don't know if you know this 
but turns out lesbians 
can give their gay friends orgasms
let me explain
about the lotion
ill leave the orgasm to your imagination

the Greeks came to lotion by way of Athena
Athens chose that owled eyed butch 
over that totalitarian typhoon Poseidon 
and in gratitude cerebral Athena planted her spear 
and from it sprung olive oil 

like Athena I spend a lot of time up here
at a young age the power of a man's hands 
split me from my body
like Hephaestus split Athena from the crown of Zues 

and when my father disappeared 
like a poem I swear I'd remember in the morning 
I still found myself getting lost up here 
like a sailor at sea 
without the violence of Poseidon 
propelling him 
so I've learned that when it hits 
I've got to write it down 

and I don't know if you know this 
but trauma is a sensory hydra 
multiplying heads every time 
someone touches my body 
every time something feels like an orgasm 

but I figure if a lesbian can give me an orgasm
without even touching my body 
maybe I can make Athena it's patron 
like she is up here 
so I made a promise to myself 

and I don't know if you know this 
but we get promise by way of Latin: to let go 
a promise to put lotion on this polis
in front of my mirror every night 

and I don't know if you know this 
but a lot can get lost in the translation of a promise 
let me explain, I feel a solidarity 
with Medusa looking at herself in Perseus’ shield 

but I refuse to let this body be stone tonight 
so I lather promises all over this [body]

on these shoulders I promise 
to shrug off the weight of an Acropolis 
that belongs to the past

to allow myself to wrap these arms 
around shipwrecks in Poseidon's patriarchal seas 

to use these hands to help 
rebuild everything he's washed over 

to let these legs stop running from 
and redirect them towards 
a metamorphosis of my own making 

to explore this living, breathing, 
city-state of Pallas Athena 
all it’s shame ridden nooks and crannies 

and I don't know if you know this 
but nipples are so distracting 
like, so, so, SO distracting 

so at a Marriott in Pueblo where I'm feeling,
like really feeling, these nips
with lotion slick hands 
I make a different promise
to these turquoise tips
the Latin kind 
a synonym for pleasure, baby 

to let go 
and realize when it hits again 
I don't have to write it down 

Heirloom Tomatoes

I’ve been spending a lot of time 
with the word unravel

I like the way my tongue 
tosses the syllables 

holds the spool tight 
on the roof of my mouth

flicks it into the universe 
off my bottom lip

my great-grandfather, Gilpin Red
was Colorado’s middleweight champion 

made a name for himself 
giving blokes a mean bottom lip

carried the shotgun suicide 
of his father in his fists

I think I carry it too
at least when opening a can of tomatoes
 
big hands run in the family 
red stained family heirlooms 

I reckon that was Grandpa's secret to peaches 
and my father’s excuse for his hands on me

a great-granduncle that killed women
a granduncle that killed childhood

abuse is just entropy 
in perpetual motion 

too many stars collapsing
under the weight of their own gravity 

the remnants of a big bang
like the one in Canyon City Cemetery 

in one hundred billion years from now
every one of them will blink out

in my lifetime it is predicted
heirloom tomatoes will go extinct 

Gilpin Red's gloves are still on display
fraying and begging to unravel 

I'm still learning who I am
still making amends with time 

still learning how to love these hands 
knowing they will end with me

The Uncertainty of Our Futures

For Taryn Kahle

sweltering hour
beads of sweat lick
my sunburnt nape
paddle and soap dish in hand
off some nameless bank
I slip into the Colorado

the Grand
the Rio del Tizon 
the Maricopa 
the cool lifeforce 
of this southwest desert 
as easily as I do 
into freshly washed sheets 

naked 
embraced
sweet surrender 

(I’m still working
on surrender) 

the Colorado, he/they and I
have rinsed ourselves 
our bedrocks 
of many a lover 
many a male admirer 
like John Wesley Powell
like the first time
I skinny-dipped kissed
the first boy 
I thought I loved

I don’t find it outlandish
to suggest the Rio del Tizon
branded flaming by colonizers 
is a he/they gay 

reject the stubborn American West
its invasive cis-het
white male explorers 
naming monoliths [ego]
bodies of water [conquests]
assaulting the feminine [recreation]

if the Maricopa
is to be called she
let it be by reflection
by her own accord
as he/they is with me
on this board
cutting through this spectrum
an exercise and practice
of self-love at once 

we try and keep things caszh
this river and I
too thin to plow
too thick to drink *
if you know what I mean 

we both know
this flight of fancy is seasonal 
an afternoon delight 
a summer fling
sure to wash out 

around this bend 
I look for coupling trout
whose rippled darts 
fleeing my invasion of their coitus 
promise the end 
of my own courtship 

I have always struggled 
with commitment 
even when I cannot tell us apart 
submerged in him/them completely 
there is peace I won’t grant myself 

as surely as my head
will break the surface 
I will eddy out 
return home to routine
to khakis and button-ups 
to commutes and spreadsheets
and plastic promotions  

he/they/I/we will be 
just another commodity 
to bottle
given back empty 
at a cost
as potential 
for tourist development 
as a force that’s agreeable 
when diverted 
and funneled, reshaped
into productive 
efficient pools of labor

into anything 
that’s not wild 
and free and roaring 
to California 
to an ocean of love 
that doesn’t know the meaning 
of binaries and borders 

the nature of our familiarity 
our temporal sojourn
privy only to that 
voyeuristic heron
our downy stilt-
legged fortune 
is not about the permanence
of our gender but

the uncertainty of our futures

* commonly attributed to Mark Twain (to “the Mormons” by Edward Abbey) but unconfirmed by this author

I Used to Be a Poet

Listen to my first slam poem of 2021 and follow along with the text below.

used to be 
I called myself a poet
thought the words pumped out my mouth
were Midas fingers 

both a blessing and a curse
in the way they gave me value
in the way my vain prayers will leave me dying of starvation 
in the way a mediocre white man
thinks everything he touches is worth something 

that’s you 
and it’s me
to be fair 
I wager it’s more than fifty percent of the room 
it’s the Democrat in the Oval Office too

and we’ve all been cooped up a year 
and that year has lasted ten years now 
no satyr, Dionysus soaked, hive mind 
drinking sweat off strangers on the dance floor 
and these stanzas turned to gilded victory
well they don’t wet the whistle like they

used to be I called myself a poet 
learned how to make a buck
spinning trauma into gold 
in the way my father was no different 
than the bulk of cis-hetero patriarchs

to be crystal clear I mean 
in the way the nuclear family
I mean the nucleus of violence 
taught me God hates fags
turned me into a suicide bomber that survived the plane crash 
left me with PTSD dreams of what

used to be I called myself a poet 
even published a whole damn chapbook
to validate my mental illness 
thought my depression was “The Secret”

like, if I manifested it I’d get that first parking spot at Walmart
and there’d be plenty of paper towels 
and Karen would be wearing her fucking mask properly 

except the parking spot is applause 
and manifesting is ideation
and the paper towels are Instagram subscribers 
and Karen, well she’s just a scapegoat for my own accountability 

cause I can say Breonna’s name five hundred times on stage
but that doesn’t mean I’ve done something 
by the way we still haven’t done something 
by the way The Secret is gated community
new age self-fulfilling prophecy 
like Christianity if communion was wine and a Xanax

but I digress maybe poetry is just self-fulfilled prophecy too
both for my manic cycle 
and this country’s self-determination toward injustice
but who even am I if I can’t write some sad gay boy shit, ya know
and who even is America without pigs killing with impunity 
and mediocre white men’s less than mediocre boners 
for making American great again like it

used to be I called myself a poet
you ever call yourself a lie so much you start to believe it 
it’s a trick I learned with lonely
turns out middle school accelerated reading was 
kind of a grindstone for disassociation 
turns out the crowds who snap my verse 
enable my addiction to broken

but just because it used to be doesn’t mean it has to be 
which I know sounds like some corny self-help book crap 
a therapist would use to fill an awkward silence 
but whatevs 
I’ll roll with it 

and call myself happy
and call myself loved
and call myself worthy
call myself alive 

and maybe, sometimes
what used to be 
is good enough to be again
so I’ll call myself a poet 

The Laundry Load

there are days when i wake up
buried in laundry 

under ultraviolet light
these clothes would show a bloodbath 

there's no delicate setting 
on this spin cycle

impossible to separate 
childhood from the whites from you

quit softener and dryer sheets years ago
because it all comes back the same

one time in fourth grade
we all got caught smashing melons in a garden

not that cantaloupe is a tough stain
it just feels like a kinder way to tell you

i don't think i can carry the load today 

January 6, 2021

There is Joy in Sadness Too

today i cried
the sudden 
out of nowhere

wasp sting between the fingers
COVID swab up the nostril
kind of cry

for the man on the bridge
was a titan of grief
propped up on six legs

nothing special about today
or the bridge or the man
or the tears

just that the medication
seems to be working
better than expected

November 11, 2020

ALL THE WRECKAGE WE’VE WROUGHT

i don't know what tomorrow brings

the breathless ache
of begging pardon from the departed
or the lips of beautiful boys
in dive bars pressed to poem

taught me it's apt to be neither
the good or the bad 
or the absolution desired

how many hours
did i chase both
(hours and hours and hours and days and
weeks and months and years)
to find myself

here there is both
and you
and us
tomorrow

November 2, 2020

nesting

it feels like it's coming back / inside / a subtle shift / same as before / different / every time / shifted to the counter / to make room / boil pasta / never replaced / no one would care / why should i / who even has a decorative kettle / boy / it's easy / to shift / outside / tangible / nameable / the kettle / so i shift / the apotheosis above the headboard / clear my head / get a little / crazy / fuck alphabetizing / the books / deserve a little elbowroom / a shift / outside / doesn't fix inside / maybe i can / trick it / it's alright / i guess / no / it's right / just right / for now

September 9, 2020

Big Dominquez

Petroglyph panel, Archaic style (1000 B.C.) | Dominquez-Escalante Conservation Area (03/15/2021)
On the weekend COVID-19 hit my town, 
we descended into a canyon south of its outskirts 
named for the friars Dominquez-Escalante.
Their troop never explored this monolithic crevice, 
crossing the Rio del Tezon some forty miles north-east,
but the mythos of destruction claims much of the barren West. 
  
I wonder if aisle fourteen of the supermarket back home 
will suffer a similar fate? 
  
Two crows guard the trailhead, 
harbingers of a destiny inescapable.
Even here life has retreated to some secret refuge
from the coming storm. It is only us,
the whistle of riverbank grass, the eroded boulders 
of a dry inland ocean. The quiet.
  
We march on looking for the remnants of a people 
delivered by coyote. Sinawav has escaped
through his hole in the heavens. 
  
On a boulder face, hidden behind juniper and sage,
petroglyphs portray a mural of past abundance.
Melted snow-capped mountains run across its length
giving life to a forest of horned ungulates,
bear prowls the periphery,
the sun follows a reassuring arc.
  
Did they record this breadth of life 
in anticipation of its demise? 
Did they know the white man would bring his disease
back then, and now? 
  
How strange to panic about our history.  

March 15, 2020